Wednesday, January 11, 2012

On Camping and Space Heaters

I come from a big camping family and, as such, I am a big fan of fire building and bonfires; I learned the former while in the cub scouts. Throughout my high school and college years, an annual weeklong camping trip in the summer was a staple for my mother and a great portion of my extended family, whether it was at Sacandaga, Schroon Lake, Brookwood Park or Eagle Point. Canoeing was my largest outdoor interest as a teen and most of the week in the woods was spent in the water, so much so that my parents eventually purchased a canoe from a neighbor.  And when the day on the water was done, there was always the family gathering around the campfire, where I not only had my first beer but also had my first kiss (a friend of my cousin).

The camping trips have, sadly, cut down in frequency over the last few years but my family has continued with the fires: my uncle has built his own fire pit and my mother spent most of a considerable bonus on installing a fireplace in her home. Both of these things are practical and enjoyable, if not exactly cost-effective, which is why most people have foregone fireplaces in favor of space heaters. I can’t argue too much: space heaters are a good, relatively cheap way to heat up rooms that don’t benefit as much from your heating system, though they can get a little pricey when you consider the electricity used on your electric bill.

My bigger concern as of late, having read quite a lot about recent recalls of popular space heaters produced by Wal-Mart and GE amongst other companies, is the issue of safety and home care. They are relatively simple mechanisms but, like air conditioners, they use a lot of power and therefore have the ability, especially in the higher-watt models, to trip your circuit breaker or blow a fuse. There are also hundreds of reports of them causing small fires, smoking, emitting a noxious odor etc. There is also the hard-to-ignore fact that they blow out easily and often need repair: switches malfunction, fans stop working, thermostat up and dies, and the central heating elements are known to fail with a consistency that is more than a little disconcerting.

Indeed, its much more fruitful to look into getting your heating system correctly pitched in those rooms where the heat doesn’t seem to be getting or, to really nip the problem in the bud, get your boiler looked at and replaced if needed. If you’re paying your heating bill already, you should be paying to have your entire house kept at a decent temperature. That being said, the cheapness of it is hard to argue with and plenty of space heaters are used daily that will never malfunction in any unsafe way. Indeed, part of my hesitation with space heaters may simply be a recent, rather bone-chilling pricing excursion on fireplace installation.